West Ham nervously looking over their shoulders after Michael Olise inspires Crystal Palace to safety
Kick-off between Crystal Palace and West Ham was delayed by 15 minutes as a ticketing issue left thousands of fans stranded outside the ground. Those who hung around in the Selhurst sun will be glad they did, following a seven-goal thriller edged 4-3 by the home side.
With the win, Palace are safe, the first of the Premier League’s relegation candidates to reach the fabled 40-point mark - they have got there before even Chelsea - while West Ham are still looking nervously over their shoulders after back-to-back losses to dent their mini-revival, though David Moyes’ side still have a five-point cushion to the drop.
Eventually, with the turnstiles clearly knackered, stewards flung open the main gates to let the hoards of supporters in and a similar approach was taken by both backlines in a game notable for some fine finishing, yes, but also some comically bad defending, the kind that explained why the London rivals came into this fixture with Premier League survival not yet secure a month from the season’s end.
Tomas Soucek and Michael Olise were the protagonists, setting up all but one of the seven goals between them, those assists distributed nothing like as conventionally as one might imagine.
Olise started with a hat-trick of sorts, nodding Jarrod Bowen’s corner straight to the feet of Soucek, before making amends at the other end, creating goals for Jordan Ayew and Wilfried Zaha that turned the game on its head in the space of five minutes.
Keen to get back involved, Soucek then took the heaviest touch seen on this ground since Roy Hodgson’s endearing touchline effort on the volley a few minutes earlier to invite Jeffrey Schlupp into his sitting room to extend the advantage, before the Czech’s header was nodded in by Michail Antonio to give the visitors a lifeline before the interval.
Only when Eberechi Eze converted a controversial penalty to clinch the points did the unlikely double-act briefly have their duopoly broken, but normal service was resumed as Soucek flicked on for Aguerd to bundle home, the Moroccan adding to the trend of Jekyll and Hyde individual displays having conceded the Palace spot-kick.
Remember when Crystal Palace couldn’t score? The Eagles went four games without a goal at the end of Patrick Vieira’s reign but have now scored 13 times in six League matches since Hodgson’s return, more than a third of their tally for the entire season.
Four different goalscorers here were representative of the way Hogdson has his team playing with more ambition and belief in attack, which is not the same as just chucking more bodies forward (though that does help, too).
There was no hesitation from Ayew when Kurt Zouma’s laboured tracking gave the forward space to fire an early shot, nor from Zaha, who was following in at the back-post and reacted sharply for the second after both his teammate and Aguerd had failed to connect properly with Olise’s cross.
Even Schlupp, not a natural goalscorer, looked a killer as he picked Soucek’s pocket and slotted calmly past Lukasz Fabianski. Eze never looked like missing from 12 yards either, though perhaps the pressure was off, given referee Craig Pawson had effectively handed Palace a freebie with the award of the spot-kick.
West Ham set-piece threat
Soucek’s opener was his first goal since August and just his second in the League all season, a sorry return for a player whose penalty box knack was so key to both his personal success and West Ham’s across the first 18 months of his Irons career.
After joining from Slavia Prague in January 2019, Soucek scored vital goals in the run-in to help keep West Ham in the top-flight and then reached double figures in the League in his first full season. Last year, though, that tally halved to five and looks set to do so again.
The decline is a worrying one for Moyes, who already has a job on his hands to overhaul his midfield this summer with the expected departure of Declan Rice, and knows the difference goals from that area of the pitch can make to his side, West Ham’s season having been revived in recent weeks in part because both Lucas Paqueta and Rice have hit scoring form.
It is no coincidence, either, that Soucek’s improvement has brought with it the return of West Ham’s set-piece edge: three efforts from corners here made it five set-piece goals in three League games, compared with six in 30 before last weekend’s win at Bournemouth.